Critical Thinking and the Veracity of the Bible

When I started my blog, one of the first posts I created dealt with critical thinking. Surprisingly, to me, I had an atheist who visited because he wanted to know what a Christian and critical thinking had to do with each other. What followed was a series of posts I did about critical thinking. That was . . . are you ready? . . . twelve years ago.

My thinking hasn’t changed about the fundamentals. I know more now, but I’m happy with this article. So I’m running it again, minus the personal references to my atheist friend who visited back then.
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A commenter once posed a question for discussion:

Given the plenitude of glaring scriptural contradictions combined with the complete lack of currently available supporting evidence for either deity or biblical veracity, is it possible to be a critical thinker and still believe in the Bible and Christianity as anything more than philosophy and parable?

It’s a fair question, but I cannot accept the “given” properties.

Before addressing that issue, let me say, I believe it is not only possible to still believe in the Bible and Christianity, such belief is the most logical outcome of true critical thinking.

To a degree, all Truth is something we must choose to believe. Think for a moment of gravity. The dictionary describes this as a force that attracts a physical body toward the center of the earth or toward another mass. I have never seen gravity, yet I choose to believe in its existence. Scientists who study such things say it exists. I have the repeated experience of seeing things fall, not rise, when I drop them. I conclude the scientists are right. This requires faith on my part, but it is not faith in a vacuum, or faith that flies in the face of the evidence. My faith in the existence of gravity is the logical conclusion a thinking person can arrive at.

As I sit here typing, I can gaze out at an overcast sky. However, I choose to believe the sky remains blue and the sun is still in place even though I can’t see either. I have multiple reasons for such belief, but for someone who would enter the discussion with the presupposition that only that which can be seen is real, nothing I said would change his mind, simply because his presupposition is wrong.

Similarly, if this discussion hinges on accepting as true the presuppositions the commenter laid out—namely that there is a plenitude of scriptural contractions and that there is a complete lack of currently available supporting evidence for either deity or biblical veracity, then this discussion can go nowhere.

Therefore, I need to address these one at a time. First, the contradictions. I agree that there are apparent contradictions in the Bible, but I disagree that there are any real ones.

At times I have said I am hot. At other times I have said I am cold. Which is true? Aren’t those contradictory? Not given the circumstances which surrounded my making the statements. So too, with the Bible. What may look like a contradiction is not when the circumstances are clarified.

As to the lack of supporting evidence for deity and/or biblical veracity, I suggest there are books and books that refute those statements.

For a cogent argument that is longer than a blog post, Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson Reference, 1999) or Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998) are clear presentations. The subtitle of the latter is telling: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. And by “evidence for Jesus” he means evidence that Jesus was who He said He was. (He also has written a second volume, The Case for Faith [Zondervan, 2000] which might be even more helpful).

Let me give my reasons for believing in the veracity of the Bible, in no special order:

  • extra-Biblical writings reinforce the historical facts recorded in the Bible
  • archaeological findings continue to support the events of history as told in the Bible
  • science and the Bible agree, whenever the Bible speaks to the field of science (apparent “unscientific” terms do crop up in Biblical poetry, as they do in my speech when I say such things as sunset, knowing scientifically that the sun, of course, does not set)
  • fulfilled Biblical prophecy supports the Bible’s claims
  • the unity of the Scriptures—though written over centuries, by forty or so different writers, the need for and the message of redemption are consistent throughout all 66 books
  • internal evidence—the Bible’s own claim of being true, of being the Word of God
  • experiential evidence—people’s lives are changed when they believe and act upon what the Bible says

For me, this is a compelling, though incomplete, list.

Let me expand the second-to-last point: internal evidence. Much like this blog, the Bible is a text we have from the hands of a writer we do not contact directly. Most of the readers here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction have not met me. In fact, there is no compelling evidence to prove that Rebecca LuElla Miller is writing this particular post—except that I am telling you, I am the author.

Does believing me exclude critical thinking? Not in the least. There are internal evidences you can use to verify that this is in fact my writing. First, the content. Does what I am saying sound like other things I’ve written? For those who know me, is it consistent with my character? Are the facts revealed in the post consistent with reality? (For instance, in various bios I say I live in Southern California. In today’s post I mentioned that I can gaze at an overcast sky. Can both be true today?)

In the same way, critical thinking can address the claims of the Bible to be true, to be the Word of God.

But what about those presuppositions about the veracity of the Bible that the commenter assumes as given? Held under the microscope of critical thinking, they will crumble because of the weight of the evidence.

Archaeology And Knowing The Bible Is True

Jerusalem,_Davidson_center_3869I’ve read on a rather regular basis criticism of the Bible—it’s a myth, it clashes with known truth, was written by anonymous people after the fact, was mistranslated, and more. Sadly, these accusations never come with proof. They are simply empty lies put out by one disbelieving person or another, then repeated without verification.

In truth, a person can corroborate that the Bible is true by using clear evidence and deductive reasoning.

In making the case that prophecy supports the Bible’s claim to be God’s word, I primarily used the latter. But clearly deductive reasoning must start with some reliable, verifiable point. The same is true when discussing archaeology as a means by which we can know the Bible is true.

Ironically, skeptics for years said the Bible was not true because there was no corroborating evidence for many of the places, people, or events in the Biblical accounts. It is the same absence-of-evidence argument that atheists today use about God’s existence.

During the cross-examination phase of a Hitchens/Lane debate about the existence of God, Dr. Lane asked, Would you agree that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence? Mr. Hitchens simply responded, I do not.

But any thinking person can see that absence of evidence has nothing to do with actual existence. The people groups in the Amazon jungle, for example, may have no evidence that computers exist, or the Internet. Obviously their ignorance of computer technology does not cancel its existence. Does their lack of evidence reduce existence to relativity? (Computers and the Internet don’t exist for them.) That reduces “existence” to that which has impact.

If we believe words have meaning and are true to that meaning, then clearly the absence of evidence has no bearing on actual existence (as opposed to perceived existence).

Here’s how this relates to the Bible. Despite the earlier failure of archaeology to uncover physical evidence to corroborate some Biblical history, more recent finds have reversed that trend. For example, I have a newspaper article written in 2003 that reports about an archaeological find confirming the existence of Simeon, the devout Jew who spoke a blessing while holding the infant Jesus. Until scholars uncovered previously invisible lines of inscription, no extra-Biblical evidence verified that Simeon had ever lived. Now scholars not only realize the monument they were examining marked his tomb, they have a verse of the Bible etched in the stone, directly tying the tomb with the New Testament narrative.

Archaeologist Dr. John McRay (Ph.D. from the University of Chicago) and author of Archaeology and the New Testament, is quoted by Lee Stobel in The Case for Christ as saying this:

The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian. He’s erudite, he’s eloquent, his Greek approaches classical quality, he writes as an educated man, and archaeological discoveries are showing over and over again that Luke is accurate in what he has to say.
(emphasis mine)

Last year, Christianity Today identified the top ten archaeological finds in 2014 that support facts introduced in the Bible and long thought to be inaccurate or unreliable or even fabricated. Here’s one of those:

In recent decades, some archaeologists and Bible scholars have argued that David and Solomon were minor or mythological leaders and not the major rulers depicted in the Bible. But the discovery this summer of six clay seal impressions—or bullae—from the 10th century BC indicate significant administrative activity at a remote outpost at Khirbet Summeily near Gaza, on the ancient border between Judah and Philistia. The bullae are the latest in a series of discoveries that support the existence of a major Jerusalem-based kingdom in the 10th century. (“Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014” by Gordon Grovier, Christianity Today)

For more specifics on these archaeological finds regarding David, see the Nova article “The Palace of King David.”

The point is simple. Archaeological finds, such as the ones listed above, continue to appear and are being studied. These discoveries verify Biblical accounts. Consequently, it is logical to accept as true the Bible’s record of events, even those not yet corroborated independently. Absence of extra-biblical evidence does not mean that no evidence exists or has existed. The presence of such evidence adds another verifying piece to the picture of the Bible as a true and historical account when intended for that purpose.

Heaven And Breakable Lines

ABC rebroadcast a Barbara Walters special about heaven the other day. In her research she questioned a number of people from various religious persuasions–the Dalai Lama, an Imam, a Rabbi, a Cardinal, a Mormon (who adamantly said Mormons are Christians), a pastor of an inner city Baptist church, and Joel Osteen, apparently the “conservative Evangelical” representative.

One reviewer’s remarks about Mr. Osteen:

A slicker preacher I’ve yet to find. He totally preaches the prosperity gospel, and does not even begin to be a true Man of God as he admits himself that he avoids anything controversial in his sermons. That man is gonna have a lot of explaining to do with the Lord one of these days.

That person is more tactful than I am. The only word that came to my mind after listening to Mr. Osteen was smarmy. He seemed ingratiating, mostly concerned about not stepping on anyone’s toes, and happiest when he could talk about prosperity. So when Barbara Walters came right out and asked him if he believed Jesus was the only way to heaven, he seemed genuinely apologetic that yes, believing in Jesus was the only way.

How sad! Christ and God’s promise of eternal life is not something to apologize for!

If I could explain it to Barbara Walters, I’d use a word picture.

Suppose you fell into a swift river. You’re being swept along toward a waterfall that will surely mean your death. A rescue boat reaches you and wants to throw you a line.

“Not that one,” you call. “Throw me the pretty orange one or that fluffy cotton one.”

“Those won’t hold your weight,” the skipper answers. “You need this solid line.”

“But it will be too rough on my hands. Throw me something that won’t hurt so much.”

“This is the only one that is strong enough. Here.” And he heaves the rope toward you.

“Never mind,” you say. “I see a branch sticking out of the water. I’ll grab that and hold on until someone throws me a better rope.”

“That branch is attached to a log headed for the waterfall, same as you.”

“Better then that prickly old rope.”

Please, Barbara, I’d conclude, understand that Christians don’t say Jesus is the only way to heaven because we’re being spiteful, exclusive, or judgmental. We say He’s the only way because nothing else solves our sin problem. All of us. With the sin problem. In need of a way to salvation.

Sadly, Mr. Osteen had a chance to declare before a national television audience the great love of God who sent His Son to rescue sinners who have no other means out of the destruction we face, and all he could say was, I’m afraid He’s the only way.

I wish Barbara had interviewed someone who had actually asked the very questions she was addressing, from a similar perspective. Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, comes to mind. He actually was a an investigative reporter, an atheist, and he made the decision to dig out the facts about the claims of Christ in the same way he’d go after any other subject he wanted to uncover.

The result was inescapable truth that led Mr. Strobel to faith in the One Way Mr. Osteen was so hesitant to discuss.

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